Retropolis: Sex and Death at Fox Theatre

I DO MY grocery shopping at the Albertsons on Charleston and Bruce. It is a place of commerce, function, and practical, adult concern. It’s where I buy salad and wine and fizzy water. I usually don’t think about it too much.

However — I don’t know if marvel is necessarily the right word, as in this is something I marvel at — every once in a while this trippy thing happens where I shunt myself into this obsessional whorl of grasping memory. The shelves and walls of Albertsons fade to mere gridlines and I find myself attempting to consciously, physically evoke lived history: See, the East Charleston Plaza shopping center is the site of the former Fox Theatre, a single-screen moviehouse that operated here from 1965 to 1988.1

HAVE YOU EVER done this? Not necessarily in Las Vegas, but anywhere you’ve lived a long time and your city has, as cities do, restlessly outpaced you in time-lapse, stop-motion fashion, jerkily warping and morphing around you while you chuggle through your day-to-day life. The city is geologically shedding and renewing itself and you realize you are not just only ever moving in space but, in fact, are also constantly moving in time, traveling over sand-drifts and lumpy strata of past moments and previous incarnations of reality rich and laden with personal memory. And you feel like if you stand still in just the right spot that some electrified jigsaw puzzle piece will fall into place and unlock a lambent flood of pure, perfectly accurate recollection.

1981 was my signal year at Fox Theatre. I was 9 going on 10, a fully free-range eastside kid fairly loosed upon the city in the summertime. Working parents, a nurse and a Nevada Test Site engineer, loving, but distracted and harried. Movie theaters were considered stations for worriless afternoon capture, safety deposit boxes for kids in their turbulent flow.

FOX THEATRE IS a pushpin to me, keyed with decidedly modern episodes of sudden, jarring maturity through mass media: It was here I first experienced realistic cinematic violence, the shock of seeing Satipo ripped through with booby-trap spikes in Raiders of the Lost Ark (never mind the film’s face-melting, head-exploding spectral finale); and it was here the grand doors of Sex first grumbled ajar with the sight of nude Andromeda exiting her royal bath in Clash of the Titans (never mind how to parse the paradoxical allure of Medusa, a confusion of athletic splendor and naked reptilian horror).2

Sometimes in the Albertsons produce section, I’ll let myself wonder whether there’s a square in the linoleum that coincides with where I sat, jeez, more than 40 years ago. Well, I used to. I put a stop to that childish, magical thinking when I mapped the Fox Theatre’s original address, 1800 E. Charleston, which places it closer to where the Port of Subs is a few doors down. Now sometimes I find myself contriving an appetite for their sandwiches.

Overlay photo depicts the Fox Theatre marquee in its original location on Charleston and Bruce. 2022 photo: Andrew Kiraly. Marquee photo: Figtreejohn/Cinema Treasures

Also, according to the comments on Cinema Treasures, Fox Theatre closed with a decided whimper: Its final film was Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach

I also polled my family for their recollections. My older brother saw Valley Girl there in 1983; “my introduction to Nic Cage, seeing boobs,” he remembers. My sister recalls seeing Gandhi there with our mom, as well as “the deserted mall we walked through to get to the theater, which was in the back. The flooring was vinyl and there was a grade to it. It was full of antique stores.”

Andrew Kiraly

Andrew Kiraly

Andrew Kiraly is publisher of TheList.Vegas.

7 Responses

  1. I remember the Fox Theatre! I also remember (and have the program still) going to see the premier of Annie, the Movie, there! Sandy, the actual “dog actor” from the movie, was in attendance and it was a big deal! A charity event.

  2. Oh yes, Fox Theatre! They had a summer movie series for kids and we used to go see matinees: pretty sure The Incredible Journey was one of them… maybe Benji…? And the last movie I would have seen there was a midnight screening of Rocky Horror Picture Show.

    1. Great memories. It seems to me that every movie theater eventually goes through a mandatory Rocky Horror phase.

  3. Totally remember the Fox theater! Was one of the first hang outs when my family moved near Bruce and Bonanza. I especially remember Great Buns located there in the same strip mall. Do you recall when the Laverty family had a grocery store there?

    1. I think I missed the Laverty grocery store era. I’m learning that the Fox Theatre and environs had multiple lives and eras!

  4. This was lovely. That “Have you ever…” part really hit home with me. It’s something I actually seem to struggle with here in Vegas. Like I know “where all my ghosts are”.

    1. Thanks, Donald. Yeah, I feel the struggle. When I hit a spot in town that’s, like, a rich memory-node, I start to get a little OCD about trying to recall as much as I can.

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